The theme in my yoga classes this week came from the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I guess you could say I’m a little late in getting to this material since the book was published in 2008, but what the heck. I use The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as class themes all of the time, and those were first recorded around 300 A.D., so I think I’m not quite past the expiration date on The Last Lecture.

I had always wanted to read Randy’s book, but I hesitated because I knew it would be a tear-jerker and would most likely stir up some feelings about my own father’s death. When it was selected as one of the book picks by the yoga book club at Yoga Bliss Akron, it gave me not only the courage but the impetus to finally give the book a go.

For those of you not familiar with The Last Lecture, I’ll provide a quick reader’s digest of the premise. Randy was a successful professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. He won awards for teaching and researching, and he worked with Adobe, Google, and Walt Disney, to name a few. More important to me than his academic and career achievements, Randy was also married and a father of three young children. For someone who seemingly had it all, you never know when your life is going to be taken from you, and Randy was faced with an incredible challenge at the age of 47 when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and told he had only a few months to live.

It’s not an uncommon practice to ask a professor to give a “last lecture,” where they consider their demise and ruminate on what matters to them and what wisdom they would impart to the world. The irony of this book is that Randy didn’t have to imagine; this truly was his last lecture.

Here’s a quote from Randy about the lecture: “Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children. I lectured about the joy of life, about how much I appreciated life, even with so little of my own left. I talked about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.”

As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but notice all of the parallels between the wisdom Randy was imparting and the teachings in Patanjali’s yoga sutras and the eight limbs of yoga.

One of my favorite stories from the book is one about a woman who pulls up behind a man in a convertible on one of those warm, gorgeous, early spring evenings. The woman notices the man with his arm hanging over the driver’s side door, fingers tapping along to the music, head bobbing, hair flowing through the wind, and she thinks to herself, “Wow, this is the epitome of a person appreciating this day and this moment.” When the car turns the corner, she sees the  man’s face and realizes it’s Randy. The woman witnessing the scene was one of his co-workers and later wrote to Randy to tell him how she was incredibly struck by the sight of him and how contented he seemed, despite his current situation. She tells Randy, “You can never know how much that glimpse of you made my day, reminding me of what life is all about.”

I shared this story with my classes because it really speaks to santosha, of being content with wherever you are in life, living in the moment, with no fear about the future and no regrets of what has passed. Randy obviously was not letting drama overcome his life, nor was he feeling sorry for himself; he knew life was good, and he was going to enjoy each and every moment he had left to live. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could always live with such peace, with such a sense of contentment, no matter what cards we are dealt? Randy’s attitude was that today, right now – well, this is a kick-ass day, and I am going to enjoy it.

Another sutra/lecture parallel I found came in the form of truth or satya, which is one of the yamas or moral codes that are part of the eight limbs of yoga. Randy talked about telling the truth, and if he could add three more words to that phrase, he would add – “all the time!” As we stood firm and tall in mountain pose, I asked my students to consider if they were standing in their truth. Are you being completely true to yourself and to others? 

In another chapter, Randy hit on truth when he talked about not obsessing over what people think about you and how much time each day is wasted worrying about this. I love his mathematical formulation that we would all be 33% more effective in our lives if we never worried about what is in other people’s heads. Just imagine how much your yoga practice could flourish if you stopped worrying about what other people think you look like in a pose. Just think how much more fun your practice could be if you kept your practice on your mat, not letting your mind wander off with self-doubt or comparison, just truly focusing on how beautiful your body and breath are right here in the moment.

Team Tigger or Team Eeyore?

Another favorite chapter was the one about making a decision about being either Tigger or Eeyore – you know, the characters in Winnie-the-Pooh. Well, Randy challenged his readers to pick a camp, either embracing the fun-loving attitude of Tigger or the sad-sack Eeyore. Randy was pretty clear on where he was pitching his tent; he was a full on Tigger! Even when faced with death, he could not let go of the Tigger inside of him. He just couldn’t see the upside of becoming Eeyore. Even though he had just a few months to live, he decided to pack as much fun as he could into that time. We all get to make this same choice every day, and the Team Tigger concept is going to be my reminder to choose happiness and living life to the fullest each and every day.

Dream, Baby, Dream

If you know me and have been reading this blog, you know that I am a big fan of going after your dreams. The major theme of Randy’s lecture was about fulfilling your childhood dreams and, more importantly, helping to enable others to achieve their dreams.  Fortuitously reading this book at the beginning of 2012, when I just so happen to be setting out new dreams and intentions, was incredibly timely and advantageous.

I’m not really sure if I remember all of my childhood dreams, but I know at one point early on I wanted to be Cinderella, marry David Cassidy, and be a star of the Broadway stage (I think there was a fantasy about winning an Oscar in there too). There have been many times in my life where I felt like Cinderella. In fact, I was definitely channeling Cindy on my wedding day, and even though I didn’t get to marry David, I somehow managed to find my soul mate. I also landed a major role in my high school musical, so I’d say I did pretty well in the childhood dream department. Take some time out today and think about your childhood dreams and what has become of them. My motto is: It’s never too late to go after something that is important to you or that makes you happy. I started yoga teacher training when I was 47 years young, so I’m just saying…you can start working on those dreams at any age.

Do you need a little nudge to get you going this year? Pick up Randy’s book. It is a super quick read and is chock full of motivational nuggets to get you moving towards your dreams. Better yet, hopefully it will inspire you like it did me to really focus on helping others to go for their dreams as well.

Even though Randy spent a good deal of time talking about living out your dreams, he clued the audience in at the end that it’s not about achieving your dreams, but rather it’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you!

I’m going to do my best to carry out the messages of this book throughout this year, staying fully present, full of gratitude and contentment no matter where the year takes me, being truthful, full of integrity, and letting go of vanity and pride and worry about what others think. I’ll also be signing up for Tigger Camp – who wants to come with?!

Don’t have time to read the book or listen to the lecture – this is the 10 minute reprised video version from Randy’s visit to Oprah!

Stuffed Animals Photo: Robert Linder